Military court upholds Suriname ex-president’s conviction

A military court in Suriname on Monday upheld the 20-year prison sentence handed to former president and convicted drug-trafficker Desi Bouterse for ordering executions during a previous military dictatorship.

Bouterse, 75, was first convicted of the 1982 execution of 15 political prisoners in November 2019, while he was president.

Six months later he lost his bid for re-election.

He has yet to serve any time behind bars as under Surinamese law he cannot be arrested until he has exhausted all appeals processes.

Bouterse’s lawyer Arjan Ramlakhan said his client would appeal the decision.

In 2019, the former leader was convicted in absentia following a trial that began 12 years earlier, allowing him to file an objection that forced the court to reconsider his case, which was reopened in January 2020.

However, at the re-trial called for him to present evidence, Bouterse invoked his right to remain silent.

Judge Cynthia Valstein-Montor decried an “improper use of legal means” in announcing Monday’s verdict.

Bouterse first took power in a 1980 coup and in 1982 allegedly rounded up and executed 15 political opponents, including lawyers, journalists and businessmen.

He has always denied the allegations, claiming the victims were held for plotting a counter-coup with the help of the CIA, and were shot while trying to escape.

He stepped down in 1987 under international pressure, but returned to power in 1990 in a second, bloodless coup. He left office a year later but was then elected president in 2010.

In 1999, a court in the Netherlands — Suriname’s former colonial ruler — sentenced Bouterse to 11 years in prison in absentia for cocaine smuggling, another charge he denies.

His son, Dino Bouterse, is currently serving a 16-year sentence in the United States for drug-smuggling and trying to help Lebanese militant group Hezbollah set up a base in Suriname.

He was appointed by his father as head of Suriname’s counter-terrorist unit but was arrested in Panama by US Drug Enforcement Administration officers in 2013 following a sting operation.